Monday, February 16, 2015

The Time of our Lives

On Valentine's Day we had a rare treat. A friend was turning 40 and we were invited to her house for a gathering. The bonus was that we could leave all five children to watch movies a few streets away.
At this party I met a newly retired couple who had been residents for just one week. They had bought a 2300 acre property on the Snowy River. The land was cheap and the house liveable. Despite only being there for seven days they had, like me, been bottling fruit that morning. They had inherited a fully established and caged orchard. While they had plenty of ideas of new directions and we talked for hours about sheep and goats and gardens it made me think about how long it takes to be 'established' when creating a place to grow food.

Eighteen years ago I emigrated from England. I had a teaching qualification, a few years in a classroom behind me and enough money to buy a secondhand Subaru. My main aim was to find a piece of land, build a house on it and plant some food. Within eight months I had my dream job - the Head Teacher of a very small school in my chosen valley, deep in the forests of East Gippsland. A year after that I was the proud owner of a 300 acre bush block with no infrastructure except a little cleared land, some tracks and two dams. I could start to garden in an unstructured, ignorant fashion with plenty of experiments and failures. Two years later I was ready to build the house that Matthew built.

Seven years of working full-time and building a house almost single-handed found me with a wife, three small children and another three step-children some of the time. While gardens were started and orchard trees planted, the fences and watering systems lagged behind the inevitable expansions and changes. Wombats and wallabies were a problem, parrots stole all the fruit and bowerbirds scratched up the veggie patch.

More children, more properties and many more animals later, we are settled on Opportunity Farm with regular visits to our bush block home. The orchards are productive and caged, the main vegetable garden has raised beds and overhead watering systems and all the animals have shelter and good fences. We are full of plans and have plenty of areas needing improvement or construction.

A five year old Black Mulberry that is yet to fruit

It has taken time to build up skills, equipment, contacts and livestock. There have been regular interruptions for bushfires, floods and snowdrifts, children, friends and work distractions but food production and farming knowledge has gradually increased.

It has taken time to have the confidence and gumption to make the commitment to living on the land and eating the food we grow and growing the food that we eat. It has taken time to realize the dream just a little more each day. Now we are beginning to practice what we would like to preach.

Now we hope to turn Opportunity Farm into a place where others can come and share in the efforts we have put in and the lessons we have learnt. Today I am exhausted from chopping, splitting and loading firewood, mowing grass and picking fruit in humid 28 degrees. However it is still a good feeling to have the time to do those tasks that make life healthier, happier and more natural.

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